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Passive-Aggressive Example
Is it Passive-Aggressive or Is It Aggressive?

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. The suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. Also, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. For more, read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question: My angry adult daughter (who has to live at home right now) didn't acknowledge Mother's Day. I didn't say a word. When she didn't acknowledge Father's Day yesterday, I texted her asking if she was aware it was Father's Day and if this was a PA issue. Her response was, "Yes and it isn't passive."

Response: Several issues come to mind with this example. The first is what is the difference between PA communication and aggressive communication? The second is can PA communication ever be appropriate? And the third is how to respond to this type of communication.

1) The Difference Between PA and Aggressive
Although this daughter indicated by her response that she thought ignoring Father's Day was either aggressive or assertive communication (because she indicated it was not passive), I would disagree. The definition of PA communication is angry, indirect communication. In other words, if the receiver of the communication has to ask what are the intentions of the communicator, then it is likely to be PA. Passive communication is not communicating at all so the receiver doesn't even know there is a message. Aggressive communication is in your face: "I HATE you! I don't want to celebrate Father's Day!" Assertive communication is direct, but civil: "I think Father's Day is an arbitrary holiday contrived to sell cards and ties" or "I am angry with how you treat me and I don't want to celebrate Father's Day."

2) Can PA Communication Ever Be Appropriate?
I don't know this family's circumstances. However, I always tell my clients that any form of communication can be appropriate, but it depends on your goal. For instance, aggressive communication can be appropriate if you don't have the goal of an ongoing relationship and only want to vent your anger. But if you care about your relationship you may need to express your anger more assertively. PA communication can be appropriate when someone doesn't care about the relationship but also doesn't feel that any other expression of anger is safe (either because of the recipient's reaction or her own inability to contain it).

3) How Can This Parent Respond?
First, I would recommend to never confront suspected PA behavior in a text. I understand that sometimes that seems like the only available way to communicate. However, I think texting in this circumstance is a PA communication itself because it is not directly confronting a problem face-to-face. In addition, asking someone if their behavior is PA is also PA communication because it is a way of indirectly blaming or expressing anger. Since this is an "angry daughter" it would be much better to model appropriate assertive behavior for her: "I was hurt that you didn't want to celebrate Father's Day with us. Is there a problem? Let's talk about it." Such a response is more likely to lead to a discussion of the actual problem, and if it doesn't, at least the parent modeled an appropriate response to PA behavior.

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